There’s a reason the facepalm is my most-used emoji. Prone to bold pronouncements based on initial impressions, I am forever discovering that I am, well, wrong. Or, at least, if not wrong, then reactionary, skeptical, or judgmental. As a gear reviewer, I chalk this up to not wanting to drink the Kool-Aid. As a human of the adventure persuasion, however, it has meant closing myself off to, or delaying, the embrace of things that can be really fun or useful. My loss, often.
But I’ve learned. Yes, I have. Minds are like parachutes, says the poster in my local library, they only work when they’re open, and mine is now as open as it gets (and, um filled with air?). I’m up for whatever now, with joy in my heart, and I’ll save the derisive asides until after I’ve tried whatever it is that I’m trying.
So, with that as preamble, here are a few of the trends, elements, and pieces of gear that I initially mocked, dismissed, ignored, or just plain didn’t get, which now I love (or at least like enough to use). Let you who are without sin cast the first eye-roll.
Mocked, Dismissed, Didn’t Understand
Real mountain bikers wear baggie shorts, I told myself. Turns out, “real cyclists” get so sore down there that they can’t ride and there’s nothing real about that. My first Lycra shorts were blue (younger me to older me: “Sorry!”) and they opened up my world. All-day rides? Bring ’em on! Lycra also, as it turns out, was the gateway drug to…
• Cycling Bibs
Borat mankini, am I right? What? Why? But then a pair of bibs showed up in my office somehow, perhaps in a box of discarded or unwanted swag, and one day every other pair of shorts was gamey, tattered, or unwearable. I held my nose and put them on. And then…whoa. They’re so comfortable. They stay in place. They’re like wearing a hug. Cold gusts no longer sweep up your back. I’m all in. Just don’t put them on in front of a mirror.
• Heart Monitors
Never dismissive of heart monitors, I just didn’t think they were for me. But then, at a trade show, I met coach who ran a diagnostics lab. Like a revival preacher, he sang a song of salvation and a life transformed, but with promises backed by science and metrics. I went to his lab and got tested. I trained religiously for six weeks. Yea, verily, he spoke the truth: I lost 10 pounds, lowered my resting heart rate, increased my VO2 max dramatically, and punched through to a new level of fitness. I’ve never looked back.
• Fat Skis
Snort. Fat skis are for people who can’t ski real skis. Back in the day, if you were a good powder skier, your expertise was hard-earned. Atomic came along with dinner platter boards and seeded them at helicopter skiing operations. Pfft. Fat skis were for doctor / lawyers who bought their turns. Early delamination issues didn’t help. But Atomic and other brands stiffened the skis, goosed their capabilities, and…look where we are now. My everyday ride is 106mm underfoot, or about as wide as two of my old school GS boards put together.
If you know me, don’t freak out. I never dissed coffee. I just didn’t quite get it. Then, at age 27, on a ski tour across the Dolomites, I thought if ever I’m going to try coffee, it should be here. Oh. Em. Gee. The clouds parted, the angels sang, I could see all the way to heaven. And from the tiny first demitasse cup, a mighty oak has grown: In the intervening years, I have consumed my own weight in coffee bean extraction many times over.
• Stand-Up Paddle Boards
First impression: Looks boring. Looks like you’re sweeping up the ocean. Second impression: Same. There are two SUP boards in my garage and the dust on them is thicker than on the high school yearbooks in your grandfather’s attic. They’re…fine. So, I guess I actually don’t love them. Is meh an emotion?
Sorry, didn’t mean to put that image in your head. Only for laps. Only briefs. See part above about not looking in mirror.
Never. Never ever ever ever ever. Oh, wait, wow…this is kinda…this is FUN! E-bikes are currently the most contentious issue in the bike world (and that’s saying something, given the whole bikes-in-wilderness tempest), and as someone who likes to earn their turns (see fat skis and heart monitors, above), e-bikes struck me as cheating. And even today, as the happy owner of a Specialized Turbo Levo, there’s something about them that feels a little unsavory. But I got mine as a substitute for my car and for the motorcycle that I contemplated buying, and I use it for dirt road exploration and running errands. It is amazing and it’s a hoot. In a world of changing climate, where we need to get off fossil fuels ASAP, e-bikes (especially cargo ones), are a solution. For people with heart or other health issues, they are the only way they can ride. I get the arguments against them, and I for one have no interest in taking mine on singletrack, but they are, for better or worse (and I think it’s both), coming to a trail near you.
Their espresso tastes like swill and their co-opting of the macchiato name is an affront to the entire country of Italy, but, well, sometimes it’s any port in a storm. And then there’s its Via instant coffee, which has transformed backcountry and road trip caffeine consumption. I travel with Via the way someone allergic to bees carries an EpiPen: It’s never out of reach.
The connotation of peakbagging is, of course, that people are putting their checklists ahead of the experience, that they care more about lists than the mountains themselves. That may be true for some folks, but three or four years ago I stumbled upon Peakbagger.com and discovered how powerful an imperative a list can be. Absolutely, there’s satisfaction in seeing summit waypoints turn from red to green, but for me it’s about setting goals. The list serves the same role as a flashing cursor: Hey, I’m here waiting. It’s time to act.
• High-Cushion Running Shoes
Clown shoes, right? The first time I saw Hoka One Ones, I was like…really? They looked like regular running shoes with polychrome mud glommed to the soul. But after several knee surgeries, a shattered tibial plateau, and a lifetime of cartilage wear, fatly cushioned trail runners like the Hokas are my new BFFs.
Pending—the Jury Is Still Out
• Stationary Bikes and Smart Trainers
Sometimes, being outside isn’t an option. Weather or other circumstances keep us off the trails or out of the saddle. I’ve lost track of how many times I penciled an afternoon ride on the calendar, only to get lost in work and run out of daylight. I’ve never hated on gyms—I like gyms—but treadmills and spin bikes…shoot me now. If I can survive twelve minutes on one of those, it’s a miracle. And rollers? Did not enjoy. But today, virtual training / social network systems like Zwift are booming. I want to know why. I want to know what I’m missing.
The Tacx Neo 2 smart trainer that I ordered arrived a few days ago. It took me less than thirty minutes to unbox it, install a gear cluster and adapters for my thru-axle bike, and sign up for a free thirty-day Zwift membership. After less than an hour of setup, I was on the bike and could see my virtual self on my iPad screen, riding with other virtual selves, while my speed, RPMs, heart rate, and watts displayed my effort. When I went “up” the virtual hills, the Neo 2 got harder to pedal, and when I went “down” it got easier. Barely five minutes went by before I was sweating and breathing hard. Do I want to spend more time indoors? No. Does this look like a really fun way to train? Yes. Oh, yes. Stay tuned.
Don’t Yet Get But Am Willing to Try
• Rooftop Tents
Snarky me thinks of rooftop tents as the rear-entry boots of camping. They are heavy, whack your MPG, and put a lot of weight on top of your rig. They are no subtle, and you won’t be stealth-camping in them. Once, in Iceland in typically windy conditions, I watched a couple struggle for thirty minutes to erect theirs before giving up and getting a motel room. On the other hand, they’re supposed to be incredibly comfortable and convenient, and if you’re afraid of snakes and scorpions (I am not), they’re great. I’ll see soon enough: AJ’s Justin Housman is getting one and I’ll be trying it on a desert trip in the next few weeks.
Once Loved But No Longer Embrace
• One-Piece Ski Suits
Hey, it was the ’80s.
• Roller Blades
Hey, it was the ‘80s.
Hey, it was the ’80s.
Hey, it was the ’90s.
• Single Speeds
Hey, it was the aughts.
• Barefoot Running
What was I thinking?
Okay, I’ve only ridden one of those giant-wheeled bikes from the 1800s once, but it was a blast. Like fixies (see below), there are no brakes or freehubs, plus you’re about six feet off the ground. There’s a reason the first bikes with brakes and same-sized wheels were called “safety bicycles.”
Tried It, Still Didn’t Get It
• Rear-Entry Boots
The pursuit of comfort in ski boots is a noble one, but this design made zero sense and consigned a generation of mediocre skiers to more mediocrity.
• Fixie Bikes
Had one for a while. Almost killed myself. Maybe that’s on me, but I like brakes. And freehubs. And not almost killing myself.
Photo by Stefan Widua